The 2001 Translation

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2001 Translation


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    37 mighty men?

    You may notice that the list (in our translation) of David’s ‘mighty men’ in 2 Samuel 23:24-39 only contains 25 names, and the entire chapter only lists 30 names of mighty men. We can assume these are the original members of the group of ‘30’ that’s mentioned several times. ‘The 30’ probably became a name itself.

    So why does it then say ‘In all, they numbered 37’ at the end?

    Could our manuscript, the Greek Septuagint, have it wrong here? Perhaps. The Hebrew Masoretic text contains a longer list of names, and parts of the list itself are quite different. Clearly at least one version is corrupted, maybe both.

    Also, some have been able to make the list in the Hebrew add up to 37... although you need to jump through some mental hoops to get there! They say that if you use the slightly longer list in the Hebrew text, and if you make an assumption that there are actually two groups of ‘three mighty men’ (which has one unnamed member), and then if you also assume that JoAb was over them all (even if he wasn’t listed in the chapter)... Then (finally) you reach 37.

    However, it seems like a bit of a coincidence that the chapter overall mentions ‘the 30’ men several times, and exactly 30 names are listed in the Septuagint text. That part seems to add up.

    Also, remember that our Greek Septuagint manuscript is centuries older than the oldest Hebrew manuscript, and the Hebrew was certainly revised (or censored and ‘corrected’) in the late 1st century CE. In other words, we generally trust our Septuagint manuscript over the Hebrew. Or to put it more plainly: someone may have tried to ‘correct’ the Hebrew text by adding more names to reach 37.

    So what’s the truth?

    Well, we don’t know. Perhaps the number 37 is an earlier corruption which now appears in both texts, and should actually read ‘30.’

    Or could the number 37 be referring to other (unnamed) men who replaced members of ‘the 30’ as they died? Indeed, there‘s another list of ‘David’s mighty men’ in 1 Chronicles 11, but the Septuagint text lists even more men there – 51! So it may be that the number 37 includes some of the men who replaced those who died, but perhaps there was a difference of opinion over who was really good enough to be counted among the ‘30.’ Perhaps the author of the later list in 1 Chronicles 11 was a bit more generous and included far more men among the ‘mighty ones.’

    So it’s not very clear.

    The simplest explanation for the number 37 in 2 Samuel, may be that the number should read ‘30,’ not ‘37,’ and it was simply an earlier scribal error. Then, later on, editors of the Hebrew Masoretic text tried adding to the list to ‘correct’ the discrepancy by taking names from the longer list in 1 Chronicles 11. That longer list of names probably included various men who replaced the ones who died.

    Note also that the number 7 in Hebrew is figuratively used to mean completion. Could the original Hebrew text have meant ‘a complete 30’? But it was later corrupted into ‘37?’ Maybe, but if that’s what happened, all manuscript evidence for this is lost.

    Alternatively, the Hebrew text has it right, and with a little work (and adding in JoAb) you can get to 37, and the Greek Septuagint translators really messed up their translation and missed out lots of names by accident. However, that goes against all our experience with the Greek text. We just don’t think they could have messed up that badly.

    Whatever the truth, David certainly had a group of mighty men known as ‘the 30,’ and some who died were likely replaced by others, perhaps totalling 51. Where the number 37 fits in to all this is unclear.

    Also see these translator notes:

    Lost text in 1 Chronicles 11.
    The confusing lists of David’s mighty men.